Monday, July 04, 2011

Another side of thrifting...the Squirrels volunteer

What is this thing?

It's a Swift Attacher.  Did you know that?  It's the plastic thingie that holds the price tag on clothes in a store.

For the past few months, Mama Squirrel and the two younger Squirrelings have been volunteering at a thrift store.

Why we never thought of doing it before, I don't know.  The girls have been raised on almost-weekly church sales, yard sales, and thrift shopping.  But the opportunity to volunteer never came up until this year, and we suddenly realized that even Crayons is old enough now to really help.  So the three of us now spend a couple of afternoons a month sorting and pricing clothes, books, or whatever else we're asked to help out with.

Ponytails dresses mannequins.  Mama Squirrel and Crayons load up bookshelves.  Mama Squirrel unloads garbage bags full of clothes.  Crayons cranks out sticky price tags for books, and Ponytails shoots Swift Attachers/plastic thingies through blouses and jeans.  It's a busy place and there are usually at least a few other people working in the back room, at the cash, hanging clothes, or unloading boxes outside the back door.  Plus the customers--who says homeschoolers don't get socialization?

The book corner has also been educational for Mama Squirrel in other ways...but that's a post in itself.

Favourite read right now: Guy Mannering, by Sir Walter Scott

How do you manage to spruce up someone's clothes when they can't be bothered to notice what they wear, but would be insulted if you asked them to change?
Honest Mac-Morlan received this mandate with great joy, but pondered much upon executing that part of it which related to newly attiring the worthy Dominie. He looked at him with a scrutinising eye, and it was but too plain that his present garments were daily waxing more deplorable. To give him money, and bid him go and furnish himself, would be only giving him the means of making himself ridiculous....On the other hand, to bring a tailor to measure him, and send home his clothes, as for a school-boy, would probably give offence. At length Mac-Morlan resolved to consult Miss Bertram [a young lady whose late father was a friend and employer of the Dominie], and request her interference. She assured him that, though she could not pretend to superintend a gentleman's wardrobe, nothing was more easy than to arrange the Dominie's.

'At Ellangowan,' she said, 'whenever my poor father thought any part of the Dominie's dress wanted renewal, a servant was directed to enter his room by night, for he sleeps as fast as a dormouse, carry off the old vestment, and leave the new one; nor could any one observe that the Dominie exhibited the least consciousness of the change put upon him on such occasions.'

Mac-Morlan, in conformity with Miss Bertram's advice, procured a skilful artist, who, on looking at the Dominie attentively, undertook to make for him two suits of clothes, one black and one raven-grey, and even engaged that they should fit him--as well at least (so the tailor qualified his enterprise) as a man of such an out-of-the-way build could be fitted by merely human needles and shears. When this fashioner had accomplished his task, and the dresses were brought home, Mac-Morlan, judiciously resolving to accomplish his purpose by degrees, withdrew that evening an important part of his dress, and substituted the new article of raiment in its stead. Perceiving that this passed totally without notice, he next ventured on the waistcoat, and lastly on the coat.
When fully metamorphosed, and arrayed for the first time in his life in a decent dress, they did observe that the Dominie seemed to have some indistinct and embarrassing consciousness that a change had taken place on his outward man. Whenever they observed this dubious expression gather upon his countenance, accompanied with a glance that fixed now upon the sleeve of his coat, now upon the knees of his breeches, where he probably missed some antique patching and darning, which, being executed with blue thread upon a black ground, had somewhat the effect of embroidery, they always took care to turn his attention into some other channel, until his garments, 'by the aid of use, cleaved to their mould.' The only remark he was ever known to make on the subject was, that 'the air of a town like Kippletringan seemed favourable unto wearing apparel, for he thought his coat looked almost as new as the first day he put it on, which was when he went to stand trial for his license as a preacher.'

I can still cook gluten-free

We just finished a short-term Treehouse experiment with gluten-free meals.

Compared to our experiences three years ago, I think gluten-free food is not only easier to come by than it was then, but in general it tastes better.  That may also be because I'm a better cook or because I approached it differently this time, but still.  Three years ago, we didn't have Stephanie O'Dea's cookbooks and blog, with her nonchalant approach to gf cooking. [Clarification: I don't mean she is nonchalant about her family's gluten intolerance, just about her cooking style.] And all the other blogs and resources out there...I mean, even three years ago gf was becoming the "new black" for food in this region, as I discovered around that same time when I had to go looking for low-sodium instead.  ("Low-sodium baking powder? No, we never carry that.  But we have lots of gluten-free foods...")  But I think it's even better now.

Since it was only an experiment and not a matter of life and death, I didn't balk at scooping gf pancake mix and all-purpose flour mix from the bins at the bulk store.  (For some people, the risk of cross-contamination would make that a very bad idea.)  The pancake mix turned out to be very tasty, and, in fact, it also made a good base for these sugar cookies.  We also discovered the Duinkerken brand of gluten-free white bread mix, and baked it according to Stephanie's directions in the slow cooker.  Much easier than some of the bread-machine failures I had last time, and it tasted all right too.  (Although what kind of bread mix requires you to add your own yeast? Just saying.)

The pasta situation doesn't seem to have changed much in three years:  the cheaper Canadian brand of rice pasta still cooks up mushy and tasteless, but there's always Tinkyada if you want to spend a bit more.  (I liked their little shells.)

A commercial package of "breakfast bars" reportedly didn't taste that great, so I made a gf version of Breakfast Cookies.

The pièce de résistance was supposed to be a slow-cooker version of Triple Chocolate Mess, which is in the More Make it Fast, Cook  It Slow book (with a gf variation) but is not on the Year of Slow Cooking Website except as a link.  As far as taste and mouthfeel went, there was no problem; the bulk store also sells a gf chocolate cake mix which worked fine, and I honestly don't think anyone would notice that it was gf.   But considering the expense of the ingredients and the end result--gf aside--I had a couple of eaters say that they actually preferred our usual, much plainer slow cooker chocolate dessert. (Note: that one is from Canada's Best Slow Cooker Recipes, by Donna-Marie Pye.)

Go figure.

Best thing from the weekend paper: On Aristotle, Churchill, and magnanimity

Seen in the New York Times Book Review (thanks, Grandpa Squirrel): Harry V. Jaffa's review of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, The University of Chicago Press).
"Some time in the 1920s, the Conservative statesman F. E. Smith — Lord Birkenhead — gave a copy of the “Nicomachean Ethics” to his close friend Winston Churchill. He did so saying there were those who thought this was the greatest book of all time. Churchill returned it some weeks later, saying it was all very interesting, but he had already thought most of it out for himself. But it is the very genius of Aristotle — as it is of every great teacher — to make you think he is uncovering your own thought in his. In Churchill’s case, it is also probable that the classical tradition informed more of his upbringing, at home and at school, than he realized.

"In 1946, in a letter to the philosopher Karl Löwith, Leo Strauss mentioned how difficult it had been for him to understand Aristotle’s account of magnanimity, greatness of soul, in Book 4 of the “Ethics.”

"The difficulty was resolved when he came to realize that Churchill was a perfect example of that virtue. So Churchill helped Leo Strauss understand Aristotle! That is perfectly consistent with Aristotle’s telling us it does not matter whether one describes a virtue or someone characterized by that virtue. Where the “Ethics” stands among the greatest of all great books perhaps no one can say. That Aristotle’s text, which explores the basis of the best way of human life, belongs on any list of such books is indisputable."